Change in Federal Pell Grant availability causes trouble for students as UT picks up slack

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UT is filling a void in student financial aid with institutional grants after 60 students did not receive their Federal Pell Grants, a grant ranging from $555 to $5,550 for the neediest students, because of a change in federal policy effective this fall.

Thomas Melecki, director of Student Financial Services, said the University is still reviewing potentially affected students. He estimates UT will spend $250,000 in financial aid to students who were expecting Pell grants. Starting this fall, students nationwide can claim Federal Pell Grants for only 12 semesters instead of 18. The federal government implemented this rule to reduce spending on Pell grants by $11 billion over the next 10 years, cutting off students who had exceeded 12 semesters in school.

“We knew we had to act fast so these students wouldn’t be left without grant support they needed to pay tuition and other expenses,” Melecki said. “So we replaced their 2012-2013 Pell grants with grants from the University. By doing this, we made sure none of this year’s students who were counting on Pell Grants got hurt by the new law.”

Melecki said the U.S. Department of Education notified UT last spring. Beginning this past April, UT’s Student Financial Services published the information online and tried to notify students via Facebook and Twitter. The University is dependent on the U.S. Department of Education to inform it of those affected. Because UT does not have access to the Pell grants students receive from other colleges, it cannot easily come up with these names itself.

“The education department provided this information in early August, less than 10 days before UT-Austin Pell Grant recipients had to pay their fall tuition bills,” Melecki said.

While 60 students were affected this year, Melecki said he did not think too many UT students will be affected in the future because more than 80 percent of UT Austin’s undergraduate students graduate in 12 semesters. Melecki said the best way for students to avoid negative consequences would be to take 15 hours per semester.

Music studies junior Joey Ovalle said while he is on a Pell grant to help him pay for his college education, he does not think this reduction will affect him because he did not start taking out Pell Grants until a few years into his college education. But he does not think 12 semesters should be the maximum amount of time for students to use Pell grants.

“Only 12 semesters is going under the guise that you have everything figured out from the beginning of your college career,” Ovalle said. “I have a lot of friends who don’t like their majors now, but they can’t change it because they don’t think they can afford it.”

Brittany Lamas, a journalism junior who is also on a Pell Grant, said 12 semesters should be enough for any student to graduate.

“Even if you change majors, it should not take you more than six years to finish your degree,” Lamas said.

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: UT to fun tuition to fill Pell Grant gap